Autism has been linked with difficult births. So it doesn’t surprise me that I’m often asked if there was anything unusual with the pregnancy or birth of my first-born son. I’ve decided to do some posts that answer that question. As to whether the difficulties I had with my son, have anything to do with autism, I do not know. But they’re here for the record anyway.
Warning, these are not nice stories. The story I am about to share is particularly disturbing. It’s quite personal too, so I may be tempted to remove the post with the benefit of hind-sight. Part of why I’m sharing it is for the catharsis of getting it out, because carrying this around with me is hard. So here we go, for better or worse…
I thought it was over. I was finally holding my newborn baby to my chest. He was now breathing, after help from the team of doctors and nurses. He was safe in my arms and all I wanted to do was hold him, for hours, for days, forever. But something was wrong with me now, and it wasn’t registering through my happy haze. They kept giving me instructions, something about lower this body part, relax that body part, push a little… why couldn’t they just let me alone – I’d given birth, right? I thought it was over.
But there was the placenta delivery – the “afterbirth“. It wasn’t coming out. I remember a woman trying to literally heave it out of me – my husband told me later that she had trouble keeping her footing while she slipped on my blood on the floor. There was a lot of blood. Too much. And it just kept coming out, but the placenta wasn’t. I could sense their growing panic, then they started trying to talk to me about what was happening. They told me that they were going to have to take me to have my placenta removed, and that I might have to have a hysterectomy to stop the bleeding if the placenta removal didn’t go well. It’s still a blur, trying to remember the words, but I remember the emotions with horrible clarity.
That’s when they started the endless questions. The same questions would be asked of me, over and over. I can’t even remember all the questions – something about blood type and what my name was. Later, right before surgery, I would simply refuse to answer them anymore.
They took my baby from me, and gave him to be bewildered husband, as they wheeled me from the delivery room off to surgery. I remember the ceiling, some lights passing by, a faint memory of wondering what I must look like, being wheeled bleeding at pace through the hospital. The horror of what was going on piling in on me. While they got the surgery room ready, I started begging for my baby, I wanted to go back to him. I told them I’d get up and walk back if I had to, they held me down. I started to vomit. With the force of each retch, I could feel the blood rushing out the other end of my body. I was terrified at the feel of the fluid leaving me, I weakly tried to tell them I was bleeding, but they already knew that, and my voice was ineffectual anyway.
Once the surgery room was ready, they gave me something to control my nausea and to try to calm me down. They transferred me to a new bed, with my arms out to the side. So many things were hooked up to me, and going into me, I couldn’t keep track of it all. The midwife held my hand as I quietly cried. And then they did something so unusual, so surreal, it was beyond my imagining. I was well and truly in nightmare territory now.
A room full of people – nurses, midwife, who knows who else. One female doctor with a very long glove on. She put her entire arm up me, to manually remove my placenta. Piece, by piece. Because it was in pieces, and it was not coming out by itself. Finally, she thought she’d got it all out. But it wasn’t over. She had to put her arm back in and massage my uterus to get it to contract. That took a while too. I was fully awake, and I had an epidural in. So I wasn’t in pain, but I could “feel” everything. Every tug, every motion. I was utterly miserable, but all I could do was just look away and cry, and think of my baby.
When it was over I was wheeled to recovery. I was meant to sleep now, but I kept asking if my baby was OK, and if I could hold him soon. I couldn’t stop asking. I fell asleep still asking.
I woke up in a room with my baby asleep near by. I couldn’t go to see him because my legs weren’t working – it would be over a day before I was able to use my legs and even pee for myself, again. I was offered a blood transfusion, I had lost a significant proportion of my body’s blood. I stupidly turned it down – they shouldn’t’ have let me make that particular decision. My husband, or my mother, or anyone but me should have made that call for me. I was too exhausted in every way imaginable to be asked anymore questions that expected rational answers. I paid the price for saying no, with an extremely long recovery time, while also trying to look after and feed a newborn. Instead they put me on large doses of iron tablets.
Later, they asked if I wanted to keep my placenta, and asked if they could otherwise use it for teaching purposes because it had been so unusual. I hated my placenta, the idea of keeping something so cruel, seemed absurd. I was happy for it go off and be their freak show, as long as it was nowhere near me.
Years later, after I’d given birth to my second son, as I held him to my chest, I knew it wasn’t finished. Until that placenta was out of me, it wasn’t over. That time the placenta came out as it should, when it should, and I even got to see it. It looked like a giant roast-sized chunk of meat. I didn’t want to keep it that time either, but this time it wasn’t going off for scientific purposes, it was just another placenta. The functional normal version, that had sustained and nourished my baby for nine months.
Like so many other things in my first-born’s life, I would look back over the years and wonder whether he wouldn’t have been autistic – or his autism would have been less severe – if things had gone differently. I’ve even thought that if only I’d held him for longer, instead of being wheeled away for surgery after birth…
But those thoughts are irrational, desperate, and unhelpful. All it does is add guilt to a situation I had no control over – unfounded guilt. As I write this my five year-old autistic son is happily running around the room, stopping occasionally to snack at his after-school meal. A school that he loves. A home that he loves. Even a mother that he loves. I must have done something right.